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In writing Romans, before Paul gets to the good news of the gospel (Romans 3 and following), he lays out the bad news: the wrath of God is breaking in from heaven. For Paul God’s wrath is a present reality not some distant, future threat. We are living in “the present, evil age” (Gal 1:4), where the proliferation of idolatries, perversions and corruption are the ambient human condition (Romans 1). It’s just the way things are even as we know things are not the way they are supposed to be. Evangelicals use “the Roman road” to highlight the threat of hell, but Paul doesn’t do that. The bad news is not the threat of fire and brimstone in some afterlife; it is the fact that God’s wrath is already evident in the world in what is effectively God’s hands-off policy. God has stepped back and given us up to idolatry, disillusionment, strife, sexual sins, fractured families, and wicked minds. For the apostle, sin and depravity may be the cause of God’s fury, but they are also the effect. The presence and spread of human vices throughout the earth make life miserable and wretched. Perhaps we can say it this way: we are not only punished for our sins, we are punished by our sins.
If salvation for Paul consists primarily of God’s invading presence, then divine wrath consists ultimately of God’s silence and absence in the midst of a counterfeit world. God doesn’t step in and smash us with his powerful right arm; he steps back and says, in effect, “if that is what you want, that is what you will get.” That is heaven’s wrath. Now we are not saying that Paul completely ignores any threat of future judgment (e.g., 2 Thess 1:5-12); what we are saying is that the threat of fire and brimstone is not the only way to frame the human plight.
Fortunately, Paul doesn’t stop with the bad news; he has good news too.
I’m glad to learn that Edward Fudge is now following this blog. I heard of Edward Fudge many years ago from my Doctor Father, Dr. Earle Ellis. Ellis was impressed and persuaded by a book Fudge had written entitled The Fire That Consumes: A Biblical and Historical Study of the Doctrine of Final Punishment now its third edition. My friend, Richard Bauckham, has written the forward. Fudge makes the case that, according to the Christian Scriptures, the fate of the wicked is not conscious, eternal suffering but annihilation. He moves carefully through the biblical texts and, like the good lawyer that he is, makes his case. Fudge has convinced a lot of scholars and evangelicals that his reading is the best reading of a lot of controversial texts.
Over the last few years I am pleased to say that Edward and I have become friends. He lives in Houston and is a frequent participant in lectures and symposia at the Lanier Theological Library. He has written other books which I’ve had the privilege to read and even endorse. We talked the other day and he was busy researching another question: rabbinic stories which appear to parallel Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31).
Edward has lived a remarkable life. The story of how he came to write such an influential book is the subject of a movie produced by Jeff Wood, Hell and Mr. Fudge (2012; DVD released in 2012). The movie shows how Fudge, played by Mackenzie Astin, comes under attack from members of his denomination because he dedicated a year of his life to prove whether or not hell really exists. People who take the Bible seriously have a hard time ignoring Fudge’s work.
Recently, a group of scholars have gotten together and produced a Festschrift honoring Edward for his work. It is entitled A Consuming Passion: Essays on Hell and Immortality in Honor of Edward Fudge (Wipf & Stock, 2015). Christopher M. Date and Ron Highfield were the editors. Stephen Travis wrote the forward.
If you are curious or puzzled by the biblical teaching on hell, you can do no better than pick up Edward’s book and spend some time with it. Like I said, he’s convinced some heavyweight scholars. Maybe he will convince you too.
A friend of mine Edward Fudge is hosting a conference this summer, July 11-12, at the Lanier Theological Library. The title is “Rethinking Hell.” Edward Fudge, as you may know, has written the definitive book on hell as annihilation. Here is an announcement I received recently on it. If you are in or near Houston this summer, you should plan on attending. Go to the site http://www.rethinkinghell.com for more details.
Eleven weeks from now, registrants from countries on three or four continents arrive in Houston for the first ever Rethinking Hell Conference. Awaiting them will be a schedule that includes high academic prowess and ground-level practice, historical exhibits, a live podcast interview with audience involvement, screening of a feature movie, and never-before-seen excerpts from an international documentary film now in progress.
All this happens in a world-renowned venue, the Lanier Theological Library and Chapel, whose professional staff is accustomed to tourist buses, even on ordinary days with nothing special on the calendar. The calendar for this conference is brief, though packed, beginning on Friday evening, July 11, and ending Saturday night, July 12. In keeping with the sponsor’s mission and vision, and unlike many conferences, this one is open to anyone who wishes to register (for a very modest fee) and attend.
The sponsor and its mission
Less than two years ago, God wondrously brought together a small group of disparate individuals scattered halfway around the world, by inspiring in them the uniting vision of a joint mission. They differed in age, location, occupation, and theology–but in truth they shared very much indeed. They all were Christian believers and all held to evangelical convictions. Additionally, driving this conference on July 11-12 in Houston, the sponsors all held the understanding of final judgment known as conditionalism or conditional immortality.
The group named their mission the Rethinking Hell Project, and took as their first assignment the creation of a powerful website called RethinkingHell.com . Next, they organized an international conference on the subject that brought them together.
What is conditionalism?
The term “conditionalism” reflects the biblical teaching that human beings are not inherently immortal, and that human immortality is “conditional” as God’s gift to the redeemed. At the time he has appointed, God will raise all the dead, both righteous and unrighteous, for judgment and their final reward.
However, while the redeemed are raised immortal, the unrighteous are not. Instead, they are banished into hell, also called Gehenna, and the Lake of Fire. There they finally “perish” (John 3:16), are “destroyed” both soul and body (Matt.10:28), and experience the “second death” (Rev. 21:8)–from which there will be no restoration, return, or recovery forever. This is the view set out in my 1982 book, The Fire That Consumes, which was something of a leader in its field.
Conference speakers and presenters
The conference will feature two plenary speakers–Dr. John Stackhouse of Vancouver, Canada, and Dr. Glenn Peoples of Wellington, New Zealand. Dr. Stackhouse holds the Sangwoo Youtong Chee Chair of Theology and Culture at Regent College, an international graduate school of Christian studies. Dr. Peoples blogs (Right Reason) on issues of philosophy, theology, biblical studies and social issues. His is the most widely listened to podcast on philosophy or theology in the southern hemisphere.
Presenters at breakout sessions and panelists include philosophers, theologians, authors and clergy; but also an evangelist/apologist in more than 100 countries; an appellate judge, a filmmaker and a psychiatrist, each bringing a unique perspective. Dr. Stackhouse is also slated to preach on Sunday, July 13 at Bering Drive Church of Christ in Houston, and those attending the conference are specially invited to attend.
Will you join me there?
Click here for links to the conference schedule, cost, and hotel and other information. With only eleven weeks to go, why not register now and plan to join me there!
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